Gut health 2: Processed food and sugar

"The Fast-Food Supper" 2010, Jacob Thompson
“The Fast-Food Supper” 2010, Jacob Thompson

With every bite of food we take, we are feeding our microbiome, i.e. the 100 of trillions of bacteria, fungi, viruses, etc, that exist all over our body, especially in our digestive track.  Unfortunately, we aren’t feeding our microbiome the right stuff, and this is seen in the rise of diseases like obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and autoimmune disease. It’s even evident in common complaints of brain fog, lack of energy, and anxiety.

The food we eat has either negative or positive effect on the various bacteria living inside us. For instance, when we eat highly processed food and food high in sugar, we are feeding bacteria that cause inflammation and harms our brain. Meanwhile, that same diet means that we are starving the bacteria we need to keep us healthy and slim. One study found that after only 10 days on a “McDonald’s diet” the diversity of bacteria was drastically decreased, going from 3,500 to 1,300 species of bacteria.  Sugar also promotes the overgrowth of candida yeast that can lead to leaky gut creating a whole host of issues, from brain fog to food allergies.

We all know that processed foods and sugar aren’t great for us, but it can be hard to get off those foods. Processed food and sugar is easy, convenient, and taste pretty good. Also, they have our bodies (and those naughty bacteria) hooked making it difficult to go cold turkey. For those that rely heavily on processed food or have sugar cravings, here are some tips to get that food out of your diet so you can start to bring balance back to your gut.

  1. Keep it simple. Don’t go from picking up fast food or throwing together hamburger helper to attempting three-course real-food meals. Create a meal plan with simple meals that use real ingredients. Here are some recipes for inspiration. Think pre-washed greens with avocado, tomato, and a protein like grass-fed steak, chicken, tempeh, or nuts to top it off.  Cooking with real foods can take time and practice, so start off slowly and have a plan so you don’t go back to your fallbacks.
  2. Deal with the cravings. Sugar is 8 times more addictive than cocaine.  Meaning you are going to have some cravings and you might not feel great for the first couple of days. Here are some ways to reduce those cravings.
    • Eat enough fat and protein throughout the day to keep your blood sugar stable.
    • Don’t keep sweets in the house.
    • Drink plenty of water.
    • Don’t substitute with artificial sweeteners. They will only increase your cravings and mess with your blood sugar.
    • Get plenty of sleep. Lack of sleep makes us crave all sorts of things that aren’t good for us.
    • Find a better way to reward yourself. Go hang out with a friend, go for a hike, try out the adult night at the roller skating rink. Whatever it is, do something that is going to be pleasurable so you won’t be tempted to find pleasure in a bag of something.
  3. Watch That Sugar Film. One of my clients referred to it as “the scared straight for sugar,” and he is absolutely right. There is nothing quite so compelling as watching a once healthy man headed towards liver disease after only a few days of eating how most of us eat every day.

For more on gut health stay tuned and check out the first in the series.

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